Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, a bold adventurer, a parent who wants to use up some of your kids’ seemingly infinite energy or an indoor type who wouldn’t mind getting a little sunshine now and then, Denton County has the perfect outdoor activity for you.

From rugged camping adventures to squeal-filled water parks to soothing butterfly sanctuaries, the 50 activities in Denton County magazine’s Outdoor Issue will make this summer the best one yet. Here are a few to get you started.

Take a hike

The satisfying crunch of dirt and leaves underfoot, the song of birds and quiet pathways beckon hiking enthusiasts to Denton County’s many delightful trails. “Hiking is a stress reliever,” says Doris Aguirre, aka “Doris the hiker,” who leads the 1,500-member Hiking Friends & Fun Denton, Lewisville, Flower Mound meetup. “It feels great to be in the outdoors.”

She’s made fast friends through her six years of weekly hikes and notes the beautiful scenery, interesting wildlife, wildflowers, glorious sunsets and rigorous exercise as incentives to keep exploring.

Here’s your guide to a few of Denton County’s most popular and unique trails, starting with Aguirre’s top three. For more options, download the AllTrails app or join a local meetup.

  • Twin Coves Park Northshore Trail — This dirt trail offers a lake view and gorgeous sunset strolls, Aguirre says. Large rocks and tree roots provide challenge and interest. Hike all the way to the pier across from the Twin Coves Marina. You’ll likely see white egrets, blue herons and other birds, deer and wildflowers. Where: 5001 Wichita Trail, Flower Mound. Length: 4.25 miles. Difficulty: moderate.
  • Murrell Park Northshore Trail at MADD Shelter — A beautiful bamboo forest on part of the trail makes you feel as if you are in Vietnam or another country, Aguirre says. It’s a loop, and if you add another quarter-mile, you can walk to the Twin Coves Marina and have a delightful meal at Rockin’ S Bar and Grill or just enjoy watching nature, the lake and the sunset. Where: 4542 Green Oaks Drive in Flower Mound. Length: 2.75 miles. Difficulty: easy to moderate.
  • Stone Creek Park Purple Coneflower Trail — Stone Creek “makes you feel as if you are walking along the Colorado River,” Aguirre says. “When you hear the water gushing and enjoy the greenery all around and even cross the stones, you have a different feel versus being in a neighborhood park.” It’s also a photographers’ heaven. Where: 1400 Fuqua Drive, Flower Mound. Length: 4.5 miles. Difficulty: easy.
  • Ray Roberts Greenbelt Trail — Highlights include a picturesque red walking bridge, majestic large oaks, fields of wildflowers in the spring and shade for some sections. Alltrails.com reviewers note lots of wildlife including deer, raccoons, wild boars, coyotes and armadillos. Sometimes the trail, notably the southern end, can be closed due to high water. Where: Greenbelt Corridor, Denton. Length: 21.3 miles. Difficulty: easy.
  • Denton County Transportation Authority’s A-train Rail Trail — “The A-train Rail Trail provides a safe environment for cyclists and walkers to enjoy the outdoors, with protection from the urban traffic,” says Adrienne Hamilton of the Denton County Transportation Authority. “In addition, the rail trail passes through lovely neighborhoods, green spaces and past quirky shops. It is our hope that more businesses, park areas and services will pop up along the trail as public use increases.” The fully paved trail crosses over Lewisville Lake with panoramic views and is a key connector between cities such as Denton, Highland Village and Lewisville. It also offers access to parks such as the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area, Railroad Park, Tower Bay Park, Copperas Branch Park, Lakeside Community Park and Arrowhead Park. Where: 604 E. Hickory St., Denton (Downtown Denton Transit Center). Length: 19 miles (final two miles from the Highland Village/Lewisville Lake station to Old Town Lewisville should be complete this year). Difficulty: easy.
  • Canyon Falls — Canyon Falls is a 1,200-acre master-planned community in Northlake, Flower Mound and Argyle. Julenne Rushing, marketing director, says the area’s rolling terrain, high bluffs, creekside canyon and stands of mature trees create a beautiful environment for exploring the outdoors. Canyon Falls has about 250 acres of open space, most of it in the preserved area along Graham Branch Creek. Its 11 miles (so far) of paved trails are used by walkers, bikers, high school track team runners, running clubs, fitness groups and four-legged residents. The trails are built according to ADA specifications to ensure they can be enjoyed by all, says project manager Jason Wight. Where: 6950 Canyon Falls Drive, Northlake. Length: 11 miles. Difficulty: easy.
  • Pilot Knoll Trail — This lightly traveled trail with lovely lake views is kid- and dog-friendly, though dogs must be kept on a leash. Hikers and trail runners also share the trail with friendly horseback riders. One reviewer notes, “If you like dragonflies, you’ll love this trail. There are bunches!” A word of warning: On rainy days, the mud in places can be deep and challenging. Where: Pilot Knoll Park in Argyle. Length: 7.9 miles. Difficulty: easy.

Visit LLELA

Most drivers zipping past on Interstate 35E would be shocked to know that just five minutes away, 2,000 acres of diverse ecosystems and wildlife habitats are home to some 360 species of vertebrates, 500 plant species and countless invertebrates.

“When you’re walking along the Black Jack or Bittern Marsh Trails, it’s hard to believe that you’re in the heart of the metroplex,” says Stacie Anaya, director of Lewisville Parks & Recreation.

It is the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area (LLELA to friends), where blackland prairies, forests, aquatic ecosystems and the Trinity River create the perfect recipe for biodiversity — with the help of a whole lot of generous volunteers. LLELA aims to preserve this biodiversity and the native Texas ecosystems that support it while providing opportunities for environmental education, research and public recreation activities such as hiking, birding, kayaking, canoeing, camping, picnicking and guided walks. This is done by removing invasive species, restoring habitats and reintroducing wildlife.

Habitat restoration

Master Naturalist and LLELA project manager Scott Kiester got involved in some of these activities when he moved from Houston six years ago.

“I’m currently coordinating the prairie restoration on the west side,” he says. “We’re in the process of getting rid of the woody vegetation that’s starting to invade the little prairie glades and replanting the native species that should be living there.”

This type of habitat improvement is necessary because, he says, LLELA is “taking what was largely agricultural land that had sat for a few decades after the dam was built and the land was condemned for flood control purposes and making a fairly concerted effort to restore the native habitats.” He notes that the eastern side of the property has “a few areas of 40 to 50 acres that are starting to look like blackland prairie again, and that’s very gratifying.”

Welcoming wildlife

Once the habitats have been repaired, Kiester says that animals start to slowly return.

“If you build it, they will come, at least to some extent,” he says. He organizes an annual “bioblitz” — a brief but intense biological survey of an area to record all living species — and over time, that will help determine the impact of the habitat restorations.

Kiester also assists with bird banding, controlled burns and wildlife introduction (he’s currently working on the box turtle recovery program). “We’ve tried to reintroduce quail several times and have yet to be really successful for a variety of reasons, but the attempts are ongoing,” he says. “Previously, the staff successfully reintroduced the Rio Grande turkey to LLELA. We have a nice viable population of turkeys now that was introduced by the staff over the last 10 or 15 years. On a side note, we’ve released several hundred or a thousand baby tarantulas as well in hopes of returning them to the property.”

What you can do

Visit LLELA seven days a week for just $5 a vehicle. The entrance is located at 201 E. Jones St. in Lewisville. You can also support LLELA by joining Friends of LLELA or volunteering for a wide variety of tasks. Friends of LLELA members not only support the nature preserve’s mission but also have members-only activities and bimonthly meetings with fascinating speakers. For more information, visit llela.org.

Garden with kids

Gardening is a relaxing hobby, but sharing the experience with your children can add a whole new element of enjoyment. “There is no better way for kids to see the miracle of life than through gardening,” says Liz Moyer, communications director for the Denton County Master Gardener Association. “It’s so important for kids to know where their food comes from, and it’s a great opportunity for families to do things together. It’s also a great way to cut your family grocery bill; I don’t buy greens at the store for four or five months out of the year.”

To get little ones started on the path to a green thumb, Barbara Brown and Rhonda Love of the DCMGA have this advice:

  • Start young. Preschool-aged kids enjoy digging in the dirt and being outside. Let them use that enthusiasm to plant some seeds.
  • Share the basics. Kids have limited attention spans, so treat it like show and tell, not a lecture. Let them do one or two simple tasks: digging a hole, planting a seed or seedling, watering or just holding tools the right way.
  • Acknowledge progress. Kids love praise, so recognize their accomplishments, and let them know you’re proud of what they’ve learned. Choose fast-growing plants. Something that will come up in a few days, such as radishes, green beans or lettuce, is a great place to start. Quickly being able to see the results of their work is rewarding for kids (and adults).
  • Grow their knowledge with their skill. As kids get older, you can start to impart more knowledge on them, things such as selecting the best plants for our area, timing planting and good plant management. Make sure gardening is still fun though!
  • Give them their own space. When they’re a bit older, consider giving them a dedicated garden of their own. An area just 2 to 3 feet wide and 6 feet long allows them to reach to weed, water and harvest without stepping on the soil or plants. Make a cute sign to show the space is theirs.
  • Create a plan. When kids are around 6 to 8 years old, they may want to grow their favorite vegetables or create a pizza or taco garden for their favorite foods. Use planning time to talk about the plants’ growing conditions and needs.

Try orienteering

Sometimes known as the “thinking sport,” orienteering is a unique blend of map reading, navigating, hiking and racing that can be practiced by people of all ages and athletic levels. Whether you’re a runner who wants to compete in a different type of race, a family that wants to spend a little outdoor time together or a hiker who wants to work on navigation skills, you can get started in just one day with the help of the North Texas Orienteering Association.

Getting started

The group of about 50 active members holds about 10 events each year, between September and May. At each meet — most of which have between 100 and 400 participants from across the state — NTOA offers beginners a training class, a detailed topographical map created by the club and the option to rent a compass. All newbies need to do is show up with clothing appropriate for a walk in the woods (long pants, good shoes and long-sleeved shirt) and a willingness to learn.

“The novice course is designed so that you can go out and complete it after the training,” says NTOA President Jim Stevens. “If you go out there and get lost, you’re not going to enjoy it, and you’re never going to come back. We want to train people so that they have a good time and come back.”

During the training, you’ll learn how to orient your map as you change direction, how to use “handrails” (features you can follow such as streams, trails, fence lines and ridges), how to use your thumb to keep track of where you are and how to break the course down into manageable legs.

Increasing the challenge

Once you’re hooked, you can practice and graduate to intermediate and advanced courses. Stevens, who has been orienteering for 42 years, says, “I love the challenge of it. It’s like a game. You’re getting out in the woods, figuring out points and trying to pick the best route for you.”

Although you do not need to be a member of NTOA to participate in events, Stevens says the camaraderie is also a great part of orienteering. “Having a club is neat because I see people I know at all of the meets. I can say, ‘How did you do? Here’s how I did.’ We’ve got some people in our club who are really good. One guy was on the national team a few years ago, and another competed internationally. It’s a great way to stay in shape and just get outside and do something.”

Register for an upcoming event at NTOA.com.

Learn to sail

It’s hard to ignore the sparkling waters of Lewisville Lake, especially in the heat of the Texas sun. Heed the beckoning waves and set sail. Don’t know how? That’s OK! In as little as three hours on shore and four hours on the lake, a crew of instructors can teach you to tack into the wind, pull up the sails, control the rudder or jive downwind.

“It’s not so much about muscle as it is about paying attention to the wind,” says Matt Meadows, owner and captain of Sail Dallas, which offers classes at Pier 121 Marina.

With 233 miles of shoreline, Lewisville Lake is a jewel of the Lake Cities region. “It’s one of the few places you can actually see the curvature of the Earth,” Meadows says.

Here are a few nautical tips to get you onto the open water:

  • Cooler mornings and evenings are the best times for summer sailing.
  • Observational skills are important. Use your senses to notice wind direction. Feel the breeze in your hair and face. Listen. Look for patterns in the waves.
  • Learn the ropes. To travel in the same direction as the wind, set your sails perpendicular to the wind and let the boat be pushed from behind. The arrow shape of the boat moves it forward. Sails provide lift, much like an airplane wing. The keel and rudder are the wings under the boat.
  • Relax and enjoy yourself. “Sailing is a science, a sport and an art,” says Meadows, who also teaches sailing at the U.S. Naval Academy. You can earn basic keelboat certification by the American Sailing Association in about 10 days, whether you want to sail alone or as a team. For the more adventuresome, racing classes are available. For more information, visit SailDallas.com.

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